By MPP Toby Barrett
While most families adopt their own special Christmas traditions, the season is celebrated much the same across households in Haldimand-Norfolk. Sending cards, displaying outdoor lights, finding and trimming the tree, preparing the meal and enjoying time together is how many see the holidays.
Over the years, as we embark on the Christmas season, my staff enjoy taking a break from talking about government issues in this column. Exploring Christmas traditions, legends and folklore has piqued their interest. A recent Facebook post caught Bobbi Ann’s eye – it was from someone who had spent time in Sweden and had learned of Nordic traditions including the story of Sankta Lucia.
Saint Lucia (Lucy) was born in Sicily in the third century AD to a Christian family at a time when the Romans were labelling Christians as troublemakers and cannibals. Although already engaged, Lucia, upon the death of her father refused the marriage and vowed to devote her life to Christians in hiding.
Legend has it that Lucia, led by candles she had placed in a crown around her head, would bring food to the Christians in the catacombs. Despite her noble deeds, her scorned would-be suitor took it upon himself to contact the authorities. Ordered into slavery as punishment after being tried and convicted as a Christian, when the guards came to haul Lucia away they were unable to move her. The decision was to burn her on the spot by dousing her in oil and lighting her afire. When Lucia failed to burn, the guards stabbed her with a sword.
Lucia succumbed on December 13, AD 304, dying a saint due to her faithfulness to God. She is the Saint of Miracles.
It remains unclear how the story of an Italian girl made its way to Sweden in the Middles Ages, but once it did, the legend took off. Lucia’s association with light and the solstice is what scholars believed attracted Scandinavians to the story. Keep in mind, in the deep winter, northern countries had few hours of sunlight and the winter solstice became a time to celebrate the halfway mark to brighter days.
Later, during a famine in the Swedish province of Varmland, people were starving and all hope was lost. On the longest night of the year or the date of the-then Winter Solstice, December 13th, a light appeared in the distance on Lake Vanern. The light came from a large white boat. At the helm was a beautiful woman donning a white gown and a crown of lights. Once docked, locals unloaded the boat they found filled with food. Saint Lucia had saved Varmland – it was a miracle.
In Sweden, the tradition continues on the first day of the Winter Solstice where the eldest daughter wakes in the early hours of the morning to make coffee and saffron rolls for her family. She dons a white robe with a red sash and of course the crown of candles. This tradition marks the beginning of the Christmas season.
Even in dark times, light does eventually appear. Light is hope. Many people will eat alone this Christmas as families put traditions on hold due to COVID-19. Bake some cookies, some biscuits or pack up a dinner and light up someone’s holiday. The sharing of food is a gesture rarely forgotten.
Toby Barrett is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk